You've probably heard about bullying lately — both in school and at work. Perhaps your company or organization has a policy about bullying, or maybe one is being created. Maybe you fear someone, or someone makes you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you think some people are bullies. And maybe they are.
Bullying is a tragic but real part of work life. To defend yourself, or just to survive, you must know what bullying is. There is no universally accepted definition yet. For now, you must pick a definition that works for you. Here's mine:
Workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior, associated with work, and primarily intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others.
This definition encompasses a wider range of behavior than most definitions. Let's explore it.
Workplace bullying need not occur in the workplace, though it can. It need not involve abuse of power, though it can. It doesn't have to be part of a repeated pattern, though it can be. It doesn't even have to actually cause physical or psychological harm to others, though it can. All that's required is that it be aggressive, associated with work, and that it be primarily intended to cause harm, physically or psychologically.
For example, suppose Rita falsely accuses you of making mistakes in the accounting system. That might be bullying, if her primary goal is to harm you. For instance, Rita might consider you a rival. To sabotage your career, she accuses you of incompetence. Her primary goal is to harm you. That's bullying.
But if Rita lodges her complaint out of concern for accuracy generally, and if she is simply mistaken about your role in the alleged inaccuracies, the behavior might be oafish, destructive, rude, and disrespectful, but it isn't bullying. Causing you harm would not have been her primary objective.
Jake manages an IT group. He tells himself that he wants his group to be the most productive in the company. He constantly hovers over the people he manages, setting near-impossible goals. Workplace bullying need not
occur in the workplace, though
it can. It need not involve
abuse of power, though it can.People who question him about his demanding style — or worse, people who don't meet the goals he sets — are either terminated whenever there are layoffs, or assigned to remote locations involving 100% travel. That's why his people regularly work killing hours. Jake believes productivity is high because he runs a tight ship, but he seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure from the distress his policies cause.
Jake is a bully. He might be achieving high productivity, but since there are many more effective ways to accomplish that, his choice to employ such draconian measures suggests that his primary objective is the psychological pain his approach produces.
Reflect on this definition and these examples. Think about how you're treated and how you treat others. What do you notice now that you haven't noticed before? Top Next Issue
Is a workplace bully targeting you? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question,
or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being
attacked. What can you do?
- So You Want the Bullying to End: I
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been
the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more
important than whether or when it ends.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: II
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some
guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.
- Anticipatory Disappointment at Work
- Disappointment is usually unpleasant, and sometimes benign. But when it occurs before we have evidence
of bad news — when it is anticipatory — disappointment can be unnecessary and expensive.
What is anticipatory disappointment? What are the risks?
See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.
- Wikipedia has a nice article with a list of additional resources
- Some public libraries offer collections. Here's an example from Saskatoon.
- Check my own links collection
- LinkedIn's Office Politics discussion group